Trump Administration Rescinds Obama-Era Guidance Encouraging Affirmative Action

Updated at 5:10 p.m. ET

The White House is withdrawing Obama-era guidance documents that encouraged schools and colleges to promote diversity through their admissions process.

The departments of Justice and Education announced on Tuesday that they have retracted several letters and memos that advised schools on how they could legally consider race in admissions and other decisions.

Education and diversity advocacy groups have reacted with alarm.

"By encouraging schools to not consider race during the admissions process or potentially in any other circumstance, President Trump is undermining the benefits of diversity in schools and accelerating the socio-economic divide," NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement.

"Educators know that all students, and not just our students of color, benefit from diverse and inclusive classrooms," Lily Eskelsen García, the National Education Association president, said in a statement.

In 2016, a divided Supreme Court upheld the use of race-based admissions in colleges, deciding that such policies do not necessarily violate the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's crucial swing vote, wrote the majority opinion in that case. Kennedy announced his resignation last week, and Trump is interviewing possible replacements. Analysts say the choice of justice could influence the future of affirmative action, among many other issues.

The Obama-era letters and memos on affirmative action did not have the weight of law. (A number of laws, including the Civil Rights Act, address the issue of race in school admissions, and the requirements of those laws are not affected by the new retractions.)

Instead, the documents provided interpretations of the law and offered suggestions to schools.

Retracting the memos sends a signal about the Trump administration's priorities. The Justice Department has previously threatened to sue universities over affirmative action policies.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions also says in a statement that he believes previous administrations exploited guidance documents to "circumvent the rulemaking process," denouncing the memos and letters as "unnecessary or improper."

Sessions says the Justice Department has identified a total of 24 guidance documents to repeal this month, including not just a number of affirmative action documents but also guidance on home loans, fair employment, refugees' right to work and the detention of juveniles, among other topics.

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